Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Chairman of the influential Senate Judiciary Committee, has scheduled a hearing this Wednesday to discuss "Comprehensive Immigration Reform," fueling speculation that the meeting will serve as a springboard for Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA), Chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, to introduce guest worker amnesty legislation. A spokeswoman for the Vermont Democrat said that Chairman Leahy is looking for the Bush administration to "walk the walk" on comprehensive immigration reform. To get more input from the Bush Administration, Chairman Leahy has invited Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff to testify on Wednesday.
Because of the appearance of these high-profile guests, many Capitol Hill insiders have suggested that the hearing may provide a perfect opportunity for amnesty advocate Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) to introduce his "comprehensive" immigration reform package. However, according to The Washington Times, little is certain as fellow lawmakers have been kept out of the drafting process - including Republicans who crossed party lines last year and supported S.2611, the guest worker amnesty bill. Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS), one of the Republicans who had supported last year's bill, told the Washington Times that he had been excluded from all negotiations. "Our staffs have asked to be involved, but they were kept out," he said. Even Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA), the former Senate Judiciary Chair who ushered in last year's bill, was left out of all negotiations. According to Specter, he has attempted to contact Senator Kennedy several times in an effort to view drafts, but to no avail. "I raised the issue again, and a Kennedy staffer said there was nothing in writing….Neither my staff nor I have seen any draft."
While few individuals have had access to the draft legislation under its shroud of secrecy, various reports indicate it will closely resemble the broad amnesty in the McCain-Kennedy bill introduced in the 109th Congress—without tiers to differentiate between illegal aliens who have been in the country many years versus just a couple. This expansion of the language may cause some lawmakers to reconsider their votes. On CNN's Lou Dobbs, House Immigration Reform Caucus Chair Brian Bilbray (R-CA) remarked, "You're seeing Republican Senators who had supported the concept before backing away on this because they went home and got an earful from their constituents. And you're seeing a lot of members who had supported Kennedy before are not going to buy all this now." Indeed, speaking to the Washington Times, Senator Brownback said, "If it's back to the old version without the changes we made last year, I don't think I could support that."
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Bank of America Chief Defends Credit Card Program, Says it is Here to Stay
Ever since The Wall Street Journal revealed that Bank of America is providing credit cards to illegal aliens, the bank has become the focus of overwhelming criticism from lawmakers, concerned citizens, and the media. Bank of America remained silent for days, but in a letter published in The Wall Street Journal last Thursday, CEO Kenneth Lewis finally responded. In the letter, Mr. Lewis defended the program by arguing that the bank is not targeting illegal aliens but instead seeking to help customers build credit history and simply servicing everyone who is eligible to receive banking services under the law.
Mr. Lewis acknowledged that the program has upset some people, but said it would continue as planned. The CEO wrote, "We created this pilot program in Los Angeles to help Bank of America customers with little or no credit history build a solid credit history with a leading bank, and to strengthen our relationships with individuals and families we hope will become loyal Bank of America customers in the future as their financial needs grow." Mr. Lewis did not explain why Bank of America could not help customers build credit history and still require a social security number to open an account. However, he did confirm reports that illegal aliens are signing up for the credit card.
Mr. Lewis also defended his credit card program as legal and pointed out that the regulations implementing the Patriot Act allow foreign documents, such as the controversial matricula consular card, to be used to open bank accounts (including credit card accounts). Citing statements of former Treasury Secretary John Snow, Lewis argued that allowing banks to accept these foreign documents enhances national security by bringing illegal aliens into the financial mainstream.
Patrons, however, are not so confident about Bank of America's motives. Not only are scores of individuals waging protest of the bank's new program by closing accounts and cutting their credit cards, but local governments are beginning to take a stand against the banking giant. Oak Hill, a suburb of Nashville, Tennessee, temporarily stopped an upcoming transfer of several million dollars to Bank of America in order to see how Bank of America defended its program. "I was very concerned with Bank of America giving credit to those people who have come into this country illegally," Oak Hill City Commissioner Chip Throckmorton said to the Tennessean. "I think it is counter-productive and endangering to all of us. I've got a real problem with a company that rewards law breakers."
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ICE Raids Net 200 Illegal Aliens at Popular Restaurant Chains
Last week, Immigration and Customs Enforcement raided restaurants in 40 cities across 17 different states, arresting illegal alien workers provided by a subcontractor who, the authorities said, was maximizing profits and evading taxes. According to the Houston Chronicle, about 200 illegal aliens were detained nationwide from such restaurants as the Hard Rock Cafe, Planet Hollywood, ESPN Zone and other well-known chains in what federal authorities called Operation Clean-up.
The raid was the result of a 20-month investigation into RCI, Inc., a multi-million dollar janitorial services corporation. Federal prosecutors have now indicted several executives of that company on charges that they knowingly employed nearly 200 illegal aliens as cleaning staff. In particular, Richard Rosenbaum, Edward Scott Cunningham, and Christina Flocken are accused of paying illegal workers in cash and set up shell companies to hide assets from the Internal Revenue Service. The federal government has charged them with failing to pay $18.6 million in federal employment taxes on $54 million in custodial and grounds-keeping contracts between 2001 and 2005. According to the head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Julie Myers, the trio divided nearly $7 million and made purchases such as "racehorses, fancy boats and lavish homes" in Florida and California.
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Border Violence on the Rise
While enforcement efforts at the U.S.-Mexico border have improved in recent months, an escalated level of brutal violence has been observed in the Southwest directly related to the human smuggling trade. All categories of border violence - from assaults on border agents to acts of homicide by rival smugglers and drug cartels - are increasing by troubling numbers.
Many believe the increase in violence is a sign of desperation among smugglers and coyotes who are seeing more and more of their trafficking routes closed off by law enforcement. According to reports from the Newhouse News Service, border officials point to the effectiveness of stepped-up enforcement efforts, including hiring more border patrol agents, setting up additional cameras and lookout towers and deploying 6,000 National Guard troops to the border. These efforts, combined with an overall deterrence effect, have led to a reduction in border crossings. Unfortunately, these actions have also led smugglers and coyotes to become even more brazen in their attmepts to move "cargo" across the border.
In the latest incident, during the early morning hours of February 8, 2007, three illegal aliens were shot to death, three were seriously wounded and another two dozen illegal aliens went missing after gunmen wielding AK-47s shot several rounds into the truck transporting them across the border. As the Washington Post explained, it is not clear whether the attack was the work of rival smugglers, extremist vigilantes or "bajadores" - crews of bandits who steal human cargo throughout southern Arizona and from Phoenix stash houses to extort ransom from their families in Latin America or the United States. "What is unusual is the recent frequency of the violence, the fact these incidents resulted in deaths and that they occurred in the desert, where the crime scenes are hard to find within the thousands of acres of sand and brush," observed Alonzo Pena, the new Immigration and Customs Enforcement special agent in charge of Arizona.
Regardless of the motives behind the recent eruptions of violence, many illegal aliens are scared. Speaking to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Jose Luis Zavala - a Mexican national who has been detained by border agents on over 20 occasions over the last 10 years - stated, "I'm a lot more afraid of the narcos [drug dealers] than la migra [Border Patrol]."
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Press Release
Bank of America in Full Spin Mode (February 23, 2007)